Tuesday 17 June 2014

Lucky Philosopher: The Culture Vulture years


From http://luckyphilosopher.blogspot.co.uk/


When I first read Tolkien - which was sometime after I turned thirteen, it was a turning-point for me.

Cause and effect, no doubt, run both ways - I was at this point developmentally pre-prepared to read Tolkien, and Tolkien also had a permanent effect on me.


First it was The Hobbit. I held-off reading Lord of the Rings because I liked The Hobbit so much, and resented the idea of a book which did not have Bilbo as its main hero - but in the end curiosity, and satiety with re-reading The Hobbit - pushed me on to Lord of the Rings. The rest is history.


It was at about this time, as I was walking down The Main Road of the village, that I felt a change in myself - in my mind. It resembled the description given by some patients with schizophrenia who describe being in a perplexed state for a while - knowing something is going on that concerns them, but not what it is - then suddenly, in a wave of (apparent) insight, finding everything made clear.

With me it was a bit like waking-up, becoming aware of myself and the surroundings. The dawn of self-consciousness.

This never happened again - so I suppose that this was my experience of the process of mentally becoming 'an adult' - although physically I still had a couple of years to wait. I knew at the time it was significant, and I also knew the significance - that I had 'grown-up' inside - in terms of the essential core.

Since then 'me' has always been 'me' - and my pre-thirteen year old self is somewhat hazy, somewhat alien.


Four the next four and some years at school, my inner life was dominated by Tolkien's world, and by the implications I drew from it. As well as reading and re-reading and pondering - the Tolkien interest propelled me into other fascinations. After quite a long period of moths just immersing myself in Lord of the Rings - I turned my attention outward to seek something similar, something which expanded and extended the things I drew from that world.

I decided to read adult's literature; our house was full of good books - so I asked my Father for advice. I began with George Bernard Shaw's various works beginning with Androcles and the Lion and Everybody's Political What's What, and Robert's Grave's I Claudius/ Claudius the God novels.

This was the start of the Culture Vulture years - 13-21 especially, when I attacked The Western Tradition with great energy and a retentive memory; limited (it seems) more by constraints of availability than of time.

The house was full of Good Books, there was a small (one medium-sized room) but well-stocked village library, and I was soon going into Bristol to swim among the endless stacks of the City library. I had the good fortune of a well-trained and enthusiastic English teacher from whom I learned to read Middle English and appreciate Shakespearian language - which opened-up 600 years of literature.

(I also borrowed a copy of Sweet's Anglo Saxon primer to try and add another chunk of time to my appreciation - but I could not make head or tail of it. Some people manage to 'teach themselves' languages; I have always been a mediocre linguist.)


Bristol had probably the best professional theatre outside London, and another teacher would take groups in a minibus during the evenings to see pretty much everything they did - so I began to accumulate an experience of plays - old and new.

Classical music took a while to kick-in. For quite a while I was mainly interested in Folk Music, and what little 'Medieval' (including Tudor) music I could hear - but an interest in the Recorder led to Bach and Telemann and then to the vast world of the Baroque and Classical eras (I was not so keen on later stuff, and still am not), and Gilbert and Sullivan led to Grand Opera which I would borrow in boxed LP sets from the City Library - by the time I finished school I had heard pretty much the whole of the pre-20th century standard repertoire, quite a bit of it followed with libretto or score (which could also be borrowed from the library).


All this cultural devouring was done on my own and for my own satisfaction - in some way. I didn't really have anybody to talk with about it - my best friend followed me quite a bit of the way, but he didn't want to analyse things in the way that I did. This led me to the secondary literature - criticism, scholarship, opinion, reviews and the like.

This was where I was, and am, different. Lots of people listen to classical music - but not many (except professionals) read books on the subject, its history, structure, biographies. Lots of people read novels or watch plays, not so many read about novels novels - and read plays and also literary essays - and biographies (plural) or the writers.

Clearly I was seeking more than diversion. Clearly, for me, it was a matter of trying to go inside the arts - and not simply in a practical way (by acting in plays and singing in classical pieces) but in a more philosophical way, indeed in a religious way: to get inside the world view of classical music, literature and so on, and in fact to stay there.


For me, High Culture was a religion. My hope was that my life and abilities would turn-out to be such that - eventually - I would be able to live inside literature and music, and see the world from that place; I would be inside - protected and sustained - and looking-out; and that that world would provide me with the necessities - work and love; money and status and enjoyable activity and human relationships.

There was little of this for the external observer to see - in the sense that this probably looked like a Hobby; recreation from my 'real' work of studying, passing exams and later training as a doctor.

But it wasn't - for me it was the most important thing because it was my hope of happiness, lacking any other religion it was my only hope - it was real life.


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